There is no end of the tunnel this time
March 2, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Burnt-out: kill the cash cow or live with it?

I'm a freelance programmer developing a web application for a company which will integrate and handle all its processes. I've been working with them for almost three years. As a freelancer, having an steady income is a bliss.

But now I got bored. I've never worked on a project this big all by myself. I've had projects where I saw the end of the tunnel, made it and moved on to something new and interesting. But there's no end for this project and I'm burning out. I'm not enjoying this anymore. I'm tired of doing the same thing every day.

On the other hand, I should be grateful for having a secure income. A lot of people are looking for work and I have plenty. I should be a professional and do this regardless of how I feel. But then again, doing this for years to come doesn't appeal to me. I'm not inspired nor passionate to follow this. I feel I'm stagnating. I'm not learning new things and moving on with the programming wave.

Due to the size of the project, it needs a lot of my time. I can only take smaller gigs on the side. This project is a kinda cash cow, it's my main source of income and killing it would leave me financially unstable. I don't have much other clients to support me, but then again, I can't have more because this project eats all my time.

I don't want a bad reputation for abandoning this client. I've developed a friendship with the project manager and he's placed a lot of trust on me. They depend a lot on my services.

What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total)
You don't have to kill the cow. You can help find/train another farmer.

If the project manager has a lot of trust in you, should be able to discuss this in an open way. Your goals do not involve working on this project long-term - he should know this. You can then build a transition plan and, possibly, an exit strategy.
posted by plinth at 8:23 AM on March 2, 2010

Ease yourself out. Part of being a professional is knowing when your heart isn't in it anymore and moving on.

You don't have to just drop it ... give them at least a few months warning. That will give you a light at the end of the tunnel and a chance to start ramping up your other gigs while they search for your replacement.

As for their depending on you, always remember: A sense that your job is terribly important is a sure sign of an impending nervous breakdown.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:27 AM on March 2, 2010

You can come out of this fine if you manage it right. It might be that what they need is a couple of new programmers with you to guide them, maybe eventually withdrawing completely after some time to truly hand off and get them up and running.

Really, what plinth said - you've got a good relationship with the PM, who should realize that you are not an employee of the company. Start working on a strategy with that person.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:41 AM on March 2, 2010

Expand your business, instead of being a one-man shop hire a junior guy to work for you. You go out and find more interesting gigs, in the meantime you still get a slice of the income from your cash cow. Does learning how to manage somebody and grow a company interest you?
posted by crazycanuck at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, expand your business and get someone junior. Especially since economy is down, this is a good time to expand small businesses - you'll get someone who's hungry for work and will do a great job, plus you'll have lots of businesses looking at nontraditional ways (i.e. hiring your business) of getting their work done.
posted by lorrer at 10:10 AM on March 2, 2010

Once this project rolls out, you'll have to offer the client training and maintenance anyway — don't leave that money on the table! — but that becomes a real pain for you if you don't have other people on the team, since you have to have someone available whenever the client might call.

Or, if managing another programmer isn't what you want to do either, bring the project to an existing consultancy and merge your firms. You'll get to work on other projects and learn other tools, you won't have to bother with invoicing and AR and bookkeeping, you get benefits (insurance, 401K match, paid vacations) and a more stable income; your client gets better coverage from a larger team, and your new employer get a new client and a new employee with proven development and client-relationship skills.

Jeez, makes me want to quit contracting myself! But I have one partner and the two of us keep enough clients running that we don't get (too) bored.
posted by nicwolff at 11:18 AM on March 2, 2010

As for their depending on you, always remember: A sense that your job is terribly important is a sure sign of an impending nervous breakdown.

This. If you seriously are burning out, and aren't just throwing the term around flippantly, you will begin to lose that sense of perspective. I thought I was most indispensible just before I found myself in my doctor's care.

Regardless, I've been there, done that, although in a different field. The road to true burn out is a nasty one, and your reputation, which may not be all that much effected, is far less important than your health. If you can manage it, transition in a replacement, but even if you can't, you may need to move on.
posted by scrute at 7:19 PM on March 2, 2010

« Older Advice needed on an amicable separation.   |   And the ugly duckling grew up to be just a really... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.